I'm trying to get involved in an open source project and I am feeling a little lost for several reasons:

  • I've been reading the project's mailing list, but its a fairly large and complicated project with many contributors and I'm having a difficult time keeping up with everything that is going on.
  • I've been lurking in their IRC, but like I said, I'm having a hard time gleaning useful information that I can apply to making an actual contribution.
  • I'm having a hard time identifying what work needs doing by browsing their issue tracking system for many reasons (is the bug legit / should the feature be worked on, is it feasible that a person unfamiliar with the codebase could resolved the bug / feature in an acceptable time, would I be stepping on someone's toes to take a given bug or feature, etc).
  • The project has many exacting coding guidelines and rules regarding contributions, and I'm worried about screwing something up when contributing.

I've been thinking about asking in the IRC or perhaps the mailing list if someone could provide guidance / mentorship by helping me identify some work to do and also helping me through the process of contributing.

More 'senior' engineers mentoring the less experienced in this way has been a common thing I've seen on the professional teams I've been a part of, but I am totally unfamiliar with the open source dynamic.

Is 'mentoring' common on an open source team? Am I out of line in asking for someone to spend their time helping me in this way? Would it be a waste of time trying to get a 'mentor' to help introduce me to working on the project? Would it be better to take a different approach toward getting involved in the project? Does it vary from project to project, or the contributors who work on a project? Please share your experiences with this matter.

  • I suspect that most open-source projects expect you to bring enough skills to the table to know these things already. Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 14:33
  • Fo not be afraid to ask for mentorship but be sure that you can afford the time needed to bring something back and you better prove your use before asking.
    – sorin
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 6:41

1 Answer 1


It's obvious that you've spent a lot of time getting to know the community and the project's guidelines.

With open source projects it's important you pick one within your skill level that you can add to (or improve on). From the way you've written this question "fairly large and complicated project" I get the feeling you're in over your head.

Consider going for a smaller project, then as you grow more familiar with open source projects, their requirements and how to get involved in increasingly complex projects you can move your way up to projects such as the one you've described. Consider this question which is someone asking where to start and has a range of suggestions and advise for how to get involved.

Spend more time looking for a project more suited to your abilities and you'll naturally pick up more of the complex parts of open source projects, their requirements and their community.

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